An Arresting Development

I have to admit that my interest in and stomach for Israeli politics waxes and wanes. I simply cannot constantly follow the ups and downs, ins and outs, and non-stop drama of it without getting a major headache. I never have to really worry that by taking a break from reading the Israeli papers and watching Israeli news program streaming on the internet, I am missing out on too much. Sure, things happen, but the regular repertoire of corruption scandals, political infighting and stalled peace process negotiations makes it always seem like déjà vu all over again.

Tzipi Livni's "Believni" campaign posters were a riff on Barack Obama's "Hope" ones.

The last time that I was completely focused on what was going on politically in ha’aretz (“The Land,” meaning Israel), and not just keeping up with things in a general way by reading the American press, was back in January and February. Those were the months of the last Israeli election campaign and election. I was rooting for Tsipi Livni, leader of the centrist Kadima party, to become Prime Minister. Kadima did end up winning the most seats in the Knesset, but due to the byzantine nature of the Israeli political system, President Shimon Peres appointed Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu of the Likud party to form a right wing coalition. I was pretty bummed, and subsequently tuned out for quite a while.

So, it was a shocking reentry for me today when, having last been keenly aware of what Tsipi Livni was up to, I was singing and bopping along to the popular and catchy “Obama Girl“-inspired “Livni Boy”…

Today’s news did not make me want to get up and dance. Rather, it made me want to scream. It was reported that this past Sunday, an arrest warrant for Livni was issued in Britain under its legal system’s terms of universal jurisdiction, accusing her of war crimes during her tenure as Israeli Foreign Minister and a member of the War Cabinet during the Gaza War (winter 2008-2009). Apparently, such arrest warrants have been issued against a number of Israeli government, military and security officials (including Ehud Barak) in the past. In all of these cases, the Israeli officials were fortunately secretly tipped off in advance of their departure for the UK, or upon landing, causing them to cancel their visits or immediately return home without deplaning to avoid the delivery of the warrant.

The British government has apologized to Livni, and in an attempt to preserve positive and effective diplomatic relations between the two countries, has vowed to fix this legal loophole that has enabled anti-Israeli groups to target Israeli officials. Indeed, Britain has had much to apologize for in terms of anti-Israel bias and discrimination emanating from it in recent years. The other major story in the same vein has been the boycott by British academic unions of Israeli institutions of higher education, their students and scholars.

Israel has lived since its establishment, and unfortunately continues to exist, in a state of war with its neighbors. War is ugly and painful, and difficult decisions need to be made by Israel’s leaders as they do their job defending the country and its citizens. Not all decisions prove to be the best ones, but in no way can or should the IDF be equated with terrorists or Israeli leaders be accused of war crimes in defending their state against terrorism.

Believe me, that “Livni Boy” guy would much rather be wearing his t-shirt imprinted with Tzipi’s likeness than his army uniform. And I am sure that Tzipi herself would much prefer dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv with her young admirers than having to make life and death decisions affecting Israelis and the everyday Palestinians whose prospects for a peaceful future are being hijacked by the extremist and militant leadership they have elected for themselves.

Hear what Tzipi Livni herself had to say on the matter:

© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Addendum: In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour published on January 18, 2010, Tzipi Livni has said that she is willing to face arrest over the UK warrant in order to defend the rights of Israeli citizens, government representatives and soldiers to travel freely. Click here to read the article on CNN’s website.


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